One of the striking benefits of satellite [TV] is the quality of the transmissions with a picture that approaches the quality of a laser disc. Add to this the superior condition of many of the prints Turner [Classic Movies] screens, and the result can be extraordinary, as it was in The Kennel Murder Case (1933), one of a series of screenings of Philo Vance films.

   The taut, swift direction by Michael Curtiz and the acting of the first-rate cast [William Powell as Philo Vance, Mary Astor, Eugene Pallette, Ralph Morgan, Robert McWade as District Attorney Markham, Robert Barrat] have probably not been displayed to better advantage in years.

   Turner is not, however, always able to produce pristine prints, and the dark print of The Bishop Murder Case (1930; dir. Nick Grindé), coupled with an almost funereal pace, made this painful to watch. Basil Rathbone was a stiff Vance in a Lenore J. Coffee adaptation, and only dependable Roland Young brought a spark to his few scenes. Would a better print have altered my opinion?

   The film opens with a striking overhead shot of a New York mansion, but much of the action takes place inside the house, where any efforts of artful lighting are undermined by the print.

   Much better and something of a return to the glossy form that marked the best of the MGM Vances was The Casino Murder Case (1935; dir. Edwin L. Marin) with Vance played by Paul Lucas. Maltin doesn’t like Lucas, whom he calls stolid with a thick accent. Stolid certainly describes Rathbone’s performance, but I found Lucas to be charming and polished, with only a slight accent.

   Rosalind Russell has one of her early roles here as Vance’s unofficial sidekick. The supporting cast includes: Alison Skipworth, Eric Blore, Ted Healy, Donald Cook, Leo G. Carroll and William Demarest, and I enjoyed this even though the mystery was resolved with a not-very-convincing nutty murder confrontation.

— Reprinted from Walter’s Place #106, March 1995.